by Mia McKenzie
There’s a lot to say about the Brad Paisley and LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist” and everything it brings up. Like the fact that being an “accidental” racist is not a thing. Doing racist stuff, whether ‘accidentally’ or on purpose, is just plain old ‘being racist’. So there’s that. Plus a whole bunch of other things. Way too much, really, to attempt to tackle in a single post. Maybe I’ll write more about it in the future, but right now I just want to say a few words (relatively speaking) about a couple of things.
I’ve been thinking about this “Accidental Racist” thing for a few days now. If you don’t know, it’s a song by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J about race relations and how, basically, we should all just get over slavery and Jim Crow and, you know, the entire history of racism in this country and not be mad at Brad Paisley for wearing confederate flags on his clothing. My first reaction to it was “Bwahahaaaahaaaa!!! What were these dumbasses thinking and how did they get to be so damn stupid?” I mean, it’s hard to get too worked up about a bad country song that’s
partly a bad rap song with an almost unbelievably bad take on a subject
as serious as racism. It just seemed like a ridiculous joke. I was all, “LL, you peaked at ‘Round The Way Girl’, homie.”
But then I remembered how often I hear many of the sentiments that are expressed in this ridiculous song, particularly as editor of Black Girl Dangerous. While most of our regular readers are people who have at least some analysis on race, often random folks of all races stop in to say incredibly stupid shit on the subject. A few weeks ago, a dude actually commented that he had “lost [his] white privilege long ago” because he was a long-haired hippie and had spent time in prison. Yeah, he was still white, though. And in response to How to Be a Reverse Racist, a satire meant to highlight the reasons why racism against white people can’t exist (because it’s a system of oppression and stuff), a Black person accused me of being racist against white people. Yep, that happened. Thinking about it, and adding the Paisley/Cool J song on top of it, I realized (what I already knew, of course) that those of us who understand what racism is, understand the insidious ways it operates, and understand its effects in all their complexity are in the very, very small minority. And the people who don’t really understand any of it…well, they outnumber us by the millions.
That thought depressed me. And for a day or so I thought this Paisley/Cool J collab was maybe signaling the end of the world. Because if we’re in 2013 and people are writing songs like this, it makes you wonder if anything legitimate we’ve ever said about racism has even been heard. And if it hasn’t, I feel it’s safe to say that humanity as a whole is just a bunch of intellectual cavepeople with no real capacity for learning or growth and is just a total lost cause at this point. And I was like, ‘fuck it’ and watched 4 hours of Smash.
Then something happened that brought it all back again. My friend who works at a cafe told me about an incident where a young Black boy of about 15 years walked into the cafe and was immediately approached and harassed by the owner, a white man who is always doing stuff like that. The kid was doing nothing but existing, breathing, blinking, etc. and the owner was so sure that he was some kind of threat that he got all up in his space and asked him what he was doing there and basically harassed him until he was shaken and angry and sad. The owner, who, again, has done this stuff before, thinks he’s protecting his staff and his customers from anyone who looks “suspicious”. And surely if called out he would say it wasn’t about race. And if anyone pointed out that he only does it to Black males, and that’s racist, he might say it was “accidental”. In other words, racism isn’t his intention, he’s just busy protecting his cafe and racism is some kind of by-product. But guess what? NO.
There is nothing “accidental” about making a bee-line for a Black boy because he looks suspicious to you. That is some George Zimmerman shit. That is some very usual, very run-of-the-mill, is-happening-all the-time somewhere, straight-up racist shit. And you know what else it is? It is a CHOICE. While you may not have complete control over what you feel when you are confronted by something that makes you uncomfortable (for whatever ingrained racist reason it does), you certainly have a choice about what actions you take. And harassing a kid because he’s Black and his pants are sagged is a bad choice. A racist choice. Just like wearing a confederate flag on your t-shirt is a choice, Brad Paisley. If you know what the flag is and what it represents and you still put it on your body and walk around in it and get in front of a camera wearing it, that’s not an accident. You didn’t trip over the corner of the rug and fall into the shirt. You made a choice. A really, really racist one.
This whole idea that racism is something that happened in the past and that we should all ‘get over it’ is so absurd on so many levels, not the least of which is that IT’S NOT IN THE PAST. Racism–in particular anti-Black and anti-Brown racism–is a system of oppression and violence that continues, every single day in every single place across this country. It happened in that cafe yesterday and it’s happening right now in cafes and on streets and in corporations and on movie sets. Black people are killed and caged every day for being Black. Honestly, that kid in the cafe got off easy. At least no one put him in handcuffs or shot him.
“Accidental Racist” is more than just a joke of a song. It’s an example of the ignorance of Americans and the unwillingness to even try to understand racism, let alone do what needs to be done to end it. And it’s more than that, too. It’s propaganda. It’s white supremacists saying, again, this is not our fault, the real problem here is your unwillingness to forget.
9/11? Never forget.
The Holocaust? Never forget.
400 years of rape and murder and enslavement of an entire race, followed by 140-plus years of pretty much the same stuff, much of which is still happening right this very second? Forget. Now, motherfuckers!!! Forget!!
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